The new health care reform in the US is starting to address disparities in different aspects of the health care system. The US Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury recently issued jointly new rules aim to provide parity for consumers enrolled in group health plans who need treatment for mental health or substance use disorders. The new law prohibits health insurance companies to deny coverage and benefits related to these disorders.
According to US HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius:
“The rules we are issuing today will, for the first time, help assure that those diagnosed with these debilitating and sometimes life-threatening disorders will not suffer needless or arbitrary limits on their care. I applaud the long-standing and bipartisan effort that made these important new protections possible.”
US Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis also issued the following statement:
“Today’s rules will bring needed relief to families faced with meeting the cost of obtaining mental health and substance abuse services. The benefits will give these Americans access to greatly needed medical treatment, which will better allow them to participate fully in society. That’s not just sound policy, it’s the right thing to do.”
And finally, US Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin stated:
“Workers covered by group health plans who need mental health and substance abuse care deserve fair treatment. These rules expand on existing protections to ensure that people don’t face unnecessary barriers to the treatment they need.”
AHRQ Healthcare Reports
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has recently released two important reports:
- The 2009 National Healthcare Quality Report tracks the health care system through quality measures, such as the percentage of heart attack patients who received recommended care when they reached the hospital or the percentage of children who received recommended vaccinations.
- The 2009 National Healthcare Disparities Report summarizes health care quality and access among various racial, ethnic, and income groups and other priority populations, such as children and older adults.
Remember the heparin contamination cases in the US 2 years ago? A Congressional investigation panel criticized the way the US FDA handled the issue. The contaminated heparin, which came from China was linked to more 80 deaths and many more allergic reactions, some of them severe. The US FDA investigators failed to determine who was responsible for the contamination. The summary of the shortcomings of the FDA investigation are given by heartwire as:
- 1. The FDA has not adequately followed up specific and credible information linking Chinese heparin firms to counterfeit heparin or contaminated heparin in several different supply chains.
- 2. The FDA inspected several Chinese heparin firms in 2008 and 2009 for regulatory compliance issues but did not conduct these inspections consistently and adequately for determining the source of the heparin contamination.
- 3. The FDA has not adequately followed up with the Chinese government about the heparin contamination-source investigation.